Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To the Marquis of Carmarthen with a Draft Declaration on the Cessation of Anglo-American Hostilities, 27 July 1785 Adams, John Hostilities, the Marquis of Carmarthen with a Draft Declaration on the Cessation of Anglo-American
To the Marquis of Carmarthen with a Draft Declaration on the Cessation of Anglo-American Hostilities
My Lord Grosvenor Square July 27. 1785

Since the Letter which I did myself the honour to write to your Lordship, relative to the Construction of the Armistice, I have received further information from America, which I beg leave to Communicate to your Lordship.1

The first Judgement rendered on a mistaken Interpretation of the Armistice, appears to have been at New York where all American Vessells, taken within the second Month were condemned as lawful Prize by the Judge of Admiralty. The Fame of these Decrees having reached Connecticut and Rhode Island it is said that similar Decrees were rendered by the inferior Courts of Admiralty there against british Vessells. There is my Lord, a Court of Admiralty in each of the United States but by our Constitution an Appeal lies from all of them to a Court appointed by the United States in Congress assembled for receiving and determining finally Appeals in all 271Cases of Capture.2 If the Parties interrested in the decrees in Connecticut and Rhode Island had appealed to the supream Court, those decrees would certainly have been reversed, because every cause which ever came before them upon the point in question, has been decided in favour of the british owner of the Vessell. And if a Declaration should now be made, of the true Intention of the contracting Parties, the british Owners against whom the decrees were renderd in Connecticut and Rhode Island may still appeal and have Justice, if the time limited is not passed. if it is, by an application to the Legislatures of those States, there is no doubt to be made, that an appeal would be granted, under the present Circumstances, notwithstanding the lapse of Time.

The decissions in the Court of admiralty of the Massachusetts and all the other States, have been conformable to the Judgement of the supreme Court of appeals, that is to say conformable to the true Intention of the Armistice, and it is with pleasure that I add, that the Judgements of His Majesty’s Court of Admiralty at Halifax have been the same way.

The Words of the Armistice, are supposed to be the same which have been constantly used in every Treaty of peace for the last hundred Years, and it is not known that there ever was before any doubt, or difference of opinion concerning the construction of them. in order to establish this Confidence between the two Countries, it is necessary My Lord that there should be a mutual Confidence in each others Tribunals of Justice, which can hardly exist, while such various Interpretations are given of so plain a point by different Courts in each Nation.

In order to settle all disputes upon this Subject upon one Principle. I have the Honour to propose to Your Lordship that a Declaration should be made, in the form inclosed, or to the same Effect in any other Form which may appear to your Lordship more proper.

With great Respect, I have the honour to be / My Lord / Your Lordship’s / most Obedient & very / Humble Servant

John Adams.3


[ 27 July 1785 ]

Whereas, By the first article of the Preliminary Treaty of Peace between the Crown of Great Britain and the Crown of France 272signed at Versailles on the twentieth of January 1783 it was stipulated in these Words vizt.Aussitot que les Preliminaires seront Signés et ratifiés, l’Amitie sincere sera retablie entre sa Majesté tres Chretienne et Sa Majeste Britannique, leurs Royaums, Estats, et Subjets, par mer, et par terre, dans toutes les Parties du Monde; il Sera envoyé des ordres aux Armies et Escadres, ainsi qu aux sujets des deux Puissances de cesser toute Hostilité et de vivre dans la plus parfaite union en oubliant le passe, dont leurs Souverains leur donnent l’Ordre et l’Exemple, et pour l’Execution de cet Article il sera donné de part et d’autre des Passeports de Mer, aux Vaisseaux qui seront expediés pour en porter la nouvelle dans les Possessions des dites Puissances4

And by the twenty second Article of the same treaty it was stipulated in these Words, vizt.Pour prevenir tous les Sujets de Plaintes et de contestation, qui pourroient naitre a l’Occasion des prises qui pourroient être faites en Mer depuis la signature de ces Articles Preliminaires, on est convenu reciproquement, que les Vaisseaux et Effets qui pourroient être pris dans la Manche, et dans les mers du Nord apres l’Espace de douze Jours, à compter depuis la Ratification des Presents Articles Preliminaires, seront de part et d’autre restitues. Que le terme sera d’un mois depuisl la Manche et les Mers du Nord jusqu’aux Isles Canaries inclusivement, soit dans l’Ocean5 soit dans la mediterraneé; de deux mois depuis les dites Isles Canaries jusqu’a la ligne equinoxiale au l’Equator, et en fin de cinque mois dans tous les Autres Endroits du Monde, sans aucune exception ni autre distinction plus particuliere de tems et de lieux.

And Whereas, on the said twentieth Day of January 1783 it was agreed, and by instruments signed by the Minister Plenipotentiary of His Britannic Majesty in behalf of His Majesty on one part, and by the Ministers Plenipotentiary of the United states of America in behalf of the said United States on the other, it was mutually declared that the said United States of North America, their Citizens6 and their Possessions, and His Britannic Majesty his Subjects and Possessions, should be comprised in the suspension of Arms abovementioned, and that they should consequently enjoy the benefit of the Cessation of Hostilities, at the same periods and in the same Manner as the Crowns aforesaid and their Subjects and Possessions respectively.

And Whereas a doubt has arisen and a Question has been made concerning the sense and intention of the High Contracting Parties, by the Words “d’un mois depuis la Manche et les mers du Nord 273jusqu’aux Isles Canaries, inclusivement[]; and by the Words, “de deux mois depuis les dites Isles Canaries jusqu’a la ligne equinoxiale.”

Now in order to remove all such doubts and questions and to the End that the same rule of Justice may take place in all the Courts of Justice in both Nations, it is hereby agreed and declared by:    in the Name and behalf of His Majesty the King of Great Britain    and by    Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States of America, to the Court of Great Britain on the other in the Name and behalf of the said United States, that the Line of Latitude of the southermost Canary Island was intended by the said contracting Parties and that the Armistice aforesaid ought to be every where undestood and construed, in the same manner as if the Words had been “depuis la Manche et les Mers du Nord, jusqu’a la latitude des Isles Canaries inclusivement,” and “depuis la latitude des dites Isles Canaries, qusqu’a la ligne Equinoxiale.” And that all judgements and Decrees of any Court of Justice of either of the Parties to this Declaration, rendered upon any different Construction of the Armistice aforesaid ought to be reversed

Done at Westminster this    Day of       1785—

RC and enclosure in WSS’s hand (PRO:FO 4, State Papers, vol. 3, f. 439–445); internal address: “The Right Honourable / The Marquis of Carmarthen / Secry of State for foreign / Affairs—” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 111.


JA had previously written to Carmarthen on 14 July, above, regarding the cessation of Anglo-American hostilities. The additional information received in the meantime was contained in a letter from the Boston merchants Isaiah Doane and Samuel Brown (PRO: FO 4, State Papers, vol. 3, fol. 475–481) and in documents the two men sent to their London agents, Lane, Son & Fraser, for transmission to JA. Doane and Brown had signed an 18 Aug. 1783 petition to Congress regarding the condemnations of American ships at New York in apparent contravention of the terms of the Anglo-American declarations on the cessation of hostilities (vol. 16:107). They also owned one of the vessels thus condemned and, after vainly seeking to have the condemnation overturned by the court of appeals in London, sought JA’s aid in pressing their case on the British government. In his representation to Carmarthen, JA summarized the points raised by Doane and Brown in their letter and enclosed it and the accompanying documents to support his arguments. On 16 Feb. 1786 Doane, having no reply from JA, wrote to inquire about the status of the case (Adams Papers). JA replied on 25 May that he received the papers sent by Doane and Brown to Lane, Son & Fraser and soon after wrote to “Ld. Carmarthen concerning this subject and proposed to his Ld: a Plan for settling all disputes of this Nature and as your papers threw much light upon the subject. I Communicated them for the information of his Britannic Majesty’s Ministers.” Since then he had heard nothing, and it was JA’s opinion that there would “be no redress for this or any other Complaint respecting frontier Posts, Negroes public or private Debts or demands while there is one Law of any state in force against the recovery of the Debts contracted before the peace, I have done all in my power and am in total dispair” (LbC, APM Reel 113).


Art. 9, sect. 1, of the Articles of Confederation empowered Congress to establish rules for deciding the legality and distribution of prizes taken on land and sea, as well 274as to appoint “courts for the trial of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas; and establishing courts for receiving and determining finally appeals in all cases of captures.”


In JA’s hand.


“Art. 1. As soon as the Preliminaries shall be signed and ratified, sincere friendship shall be re-established between his Britannic Majesty and his most Christian Majesty, their kingdoms, states, and subjects, by sea and by land, in all parts of the world: orders shall be sent to the armies and squadrons, as well as to the subjects, of the two powers, to stop all hostilities, and to live in the most perfect union, forgetting what is passed, of which their sovereigns give them the order and example; and for the execution of this Arti cle, sea passes shall be given on each side for the ships which shall be dispatched to carry the news of it to the possessions of the said powers” ( Parliamentary Hist. , 23:346). For English translations of Art. 22 quoted later in the declaration, see the British and American proclamations of 14 and 20 Feb. 1783 (vol. 14:264–265, 284). Except for the inclusion of the language of Art. 1 of the Anglo-French preliminary treaty and the explicit direction to the courts as to how the cessation of hostilities should be interpreted, the proposed declaration is essentially a restatement of those proclamations.


The preceding four words (from “soit”) are interlined in JA’s hand.


In the LbC, WSS wrote, “Subjects.”